It has been so long since Joe Torre retired as a player that people forget he ever played the sport and didn’t burst on the scene full-blown as a manager for the New York Yankees. In fact, Torre managed elsewhere before winning four World Series titles with the Yankees, though he really did nothing that truly distinguished his candidacy as a Hall of Famer.
Hall of Famer
Yet Sunday he will enter the Baseball Hall of Fame as a manager and although working for the late George Steinbrenner did raise his blood pressure often Torre benefited from the forum he was handed and the talent he had on his rosters.
In some ways Torre’s career mirrors that of the great Casey Stengel. Stengel was a sound player, but not a real star (Torre accomplished more on the field) and his first tries at managing big-league clubs ended with him getting fired. It was not until he won 10 pennants in 12 years running the Yankees between the late 1940s and 1960 that Stengel was accorded genius status.
Torre the player broke into the majors in 1960 and was a nine-time All-Star. He won the National League Most Valuable Player award in 1971 for the St. Louis Cardinals and led the league in batting that season with a .363 average. In an 18-season career Torre batted .297 with 252 home runs and 1,185 runs batted in. He was a very good player, mostly as a catcher and first baseman, and later a third baseman. But he was not a Hall of Famer.
By the time Torre joined the Yankees in 1996 he had managed the Cardinals, the New York Mets, and the Atlanta Braves. Torre managed 15 years in the National League before hiring on with the Yankees, with one-first-place finish. He had better horses with the Yankees and he showed the judgment and even-handedness necessary to excel in the New York spotlight under the pressure to produce that only Steinbrenner could produce.
In 12 seasons running the Yankees, Torre finished first 10 times in his division. When he wrapped up his managing career leading the Dodgers for three years, his club twice finished first. In all during his 29-year managing career Torre won 2,326 games, four World Series and six pennants.
Even now, at 74, Torre still works in baseball as the Vice President for Baseball Operations in the commissioner’s office.
Officially, the Hall of Fame does not have a place for a figure who was an excellent player, a really solid coach, and a very good manager, whose years in the game were plentiful and of importance, but who may not have been a superstar in any one facet of the sport. The accumulation of the evidence from role to role is not permitted.
What this means is that while Torre was a terrific player (nine All-Star selections!) the voters were supposed to ignore that and select him only on his merits as a manager. It was Torre’s second baseball career, as manager, not his first, not his third in the Major League front office, and not the combination, that earned him the positive vote. Whether some voters quietly factored in the rest of Torre’s contributions will remain secret, but the end result was the right one – Joe Torre is a Hall of Famer.